I grew up on a block with a ton of kids in Washington, D.C. We formed clubs, rode trikes/ bikes/ big wheels in the alley, and caught fireflies while our parents chatted on the front porches (with drinks). There were neighborhood Christmas parties after caroling in the winter, and block parties in the summer. It sounds idyllic, right?
Not quite. Every mom on the block felt entitled to discipline any child on the block. We probably deserved whatever scoldings they gave us. But those same moms also felt free to laugh and comment on my thoroughly lopsided look when my older sister cut my hair. They tsk-tsked relentlessly at the two centimeters of bangs left when I cut my hair. My messy face, poor bike riding skills, and mismatched socks were equally fair game. (To be fair, the comment on bike riding probably only happened after I lost control, plowed through a flower garden, and took paint off a fence.)
The main target of these moms, though, was Blankey. Blankey was the name of my baby blanket and I loved him (yes, I anthropomorphized Blankey to the point of being male). Blankey was my constant companion. I tied him on my bike, chewed on him, and rat-tailed my siblings with him (always in self-defense, of course). He was my cape, my hat, or my skirt. He was undoubtedly filthy.
Which might explain why those mothers were so anti-Blankey:
“Aren’t you too old for a blanket?”
“Don’t you think you should leave that thing at home?”
“Why are you carrying around a rag?”
Even a five-year-old knew these were rhetorical questions, asked solely to air the questioner’s own disapproval. I glowered and said nothing.
And then came the evening of a multi-family barbecue. A few too many cocktails turned one less-than-stable mom into a nasty drunk. She spotted Blankey and me, shook her head, and loudly proclaimed, “I can’t believe you’ve still got that thing. You’re going to be walking down the aisle some day, carrying your blanket!”
The other parents, equally lubed up, thought this was hilarious.
I did not find this hilarious. I vowed then and there that if I ever got married, I damn well WOULD carry Blankey down the aisle with me.
I eventually packed Blankey away with other childhood treasures. I’m pretty sure I did it before high school, but I wouldn’t swear to that. Don’t get all judgey like those Moms, either. Kids took comfort anywhere we could find it in our house(s).
Parents divorced, houses were sold, stuff was moved, and my belongings wound up all over the Eastern Seaboard. My Ex-Stepfather spent years trying to get the lingering possessions of nine children out of his basement. (I think he finally succeeded last February.) Every time I’d visit, he’d have at least one box waiting and send it away with me. Once, when he found out I had a layover from Italy at Dulles Airport, he showed up with two backpacks of my stuff. Sadly, neither backpack had Blankey.
I checked my father’s house in Utah after I got engaged. He had some furniture and Christmas ornaments, but no boxes. I figured Blankey must have been thrown out along with my Glee Club Sweaters and prom souvenirs. And I was sad.
How was I going to keep my spiteful, five-year-old self’s screw-you promise if I couldn’t find Blankey?
Ex-Stepmother #1 came through for me, as she often does. When I brought Andy to her house for Christmas and New Hampshire wedding planning, she asked me if I was going to wear my mother’s wedding dress.
I remembered my parents’ miserable marriage and shuddered. “No way. That’s some bad juju, right there. Also, I don’t know where her dress is.”
Ex-Stepmother #1 said, “It’s in the basement.”
I did a double take. “Wait. How did you wind up with the dress of your ex-husband’s ex-wife? I mean, you and my mom hated each other.” I VIVIDLY remember the two of them screaming at each other on the sidewalk in front of our D.C. house. It was the only public scene ever in my white childhood.
Ex-Stepmother #1 actually smiled, like she was remembering good times. “That was a long time ago. I am sure that if your mother were still alive, we would be good friends now.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I could see that. If nothing else, you’d have your own ‘I survived being married to Mr. Ashbough’ support group.”
Ex-Stepmother #1 giggled. And looked guilty. She regained her composure and said, “Anyway, after she died and your Ex-Stepfather was getting rid of everything, I made sure I hung onto her dress for you girls.”
Have I mentioned before how extraordinary and kind Ex-Stepmother #1 is? She held onto that dress for hundreds of miles and three moves. But she wasn’t done.
And then she said, “You have some boxes down there, too.” Extraordinary CUBED. Kindness CUBED. That is Ex-Stepmother #1.
I immediately dragged Andy down to the basement and ripped open those boxes. I found my scrapbooks, choir mementos, yearbooks, and finally, tucked away in an old purse from my racist grandmother, a long scrap of fabric. It was, indeed, my beloved Blankey.
With no small sense of satisfaction, I sent Blankey off to the florist and requested that he be wrapped around my bouquet.
They called and said, “What?”
I told them the story. They asked if they could cut him down to a smaller size to better fit the bouquet. I agreed, and soon the biggest remnant of Blankey arrived back in LA. But the best part of Blankey, the favorite corner that comforted me as a child, stayed in New Hampshire. Waiting for his big day, when we would walk down the aisle together.
Just like I promised.